Palm-size ancient forest springs back to life

A delegation from a local Chinese environmental group has been granted a permit to recreate a favorite Maya landmark in the Americas.

A land-and-sea portion of a deserted desert landscape known as the “Indigenous ” Forest in southern Chile has been inscribed by UNESCO as a world heritage site, though many people don’t know it is still alive.

The emblematic atoll — one of several that once dotted the South American coastline — was declared extinct, with one-quarter of its original vegetation, long-term temperatures and biodiversity dead or dying, as part of a 2013 UN study.

Part of the destruction came during a 2010 dam development in the nearby coastal community of Salar de Uyuni.

But in an effort to preserve the ancient landscape, a delegation from the Guizhou (霪) environmental group recently held talks with Chilean officials in which they were granted a permit to revisit the Desert Flower (武).

Indigenous community’s claim to site

“The Ancient Cultural Landscape of Salar de Uyuni is in our hands. It is in our hands because after discussions with the relevant authorities, we have been granted the opportunity to rebuild a walkway on this lost part of our heritage,” said Cheng Zhima, a senior member of the non-profit foundation that oversees the area, from Guizhou.

The team’s latest visit was hailed as a success by Guizhou authorities, who hope the mountain, which has remained relatively untouched by humankind for centuries, will play an important role in a major tourism venture in their province.

They hope the walkway — which will traverse the dormant speck of a forested atoll — can help present the lost site to the world.

“This is our chance to prevent the forest from being ignored and because of that, to restore our knowledge about it and more than just give them their money back from the water we generate,” said Guizhou environmental official Zhang Xiaobai.

Young specialists from Guizhou were also let to join the restoration team on the pioneering trip, including six Chinese students who were motivated by the opportunity to use their knowledge and skills to save a rare jungle landmark.

They have already begun surveys and have started to mark out the atoll’s topography.

The team is set to return to the site in September, but according to Zhang — who urged the authorities to establish a conservation zone around the extinct natural wonder — time is running out.

He warned that the threatened habitat could vanish completely if no steps are taken.

A view of the Ancient Cultural Landscape of Salar de Uyuni from a mountain peak nearby.

“If the forest’s shade and natural food sources are not taken care of, and if some part of the habitats starts to disappear, as happened with the Native Forest in Argentina, Peru and Brazil, this lost treasure could disappear too,” he said.

Tourism vision

Losing the atoll to tourism may not be completely out of the question.

Chile’s interior ministry in June announced plans to build a hotel and resort at the ancient coral reef, which would be open to both locals and international visitors.

But while that may be an option, Guizhou authorities need to continue exploring new places like the Ancient Cultural Landscape and Maya Lin’s deserted “Ghost Forest” — the latter of which should be able to play a role in attracting visitors to one of the world’s “most pristine and pure” natural resources, according to Zhang.

On the other hand, Guizhou has previously pledged to allow another UNESCO natural site, the Kaan Loutealskraal (煱員), to be turned into a tourist attraction, but work on that could be put on hold after earthquakes and landslides brought destruction to the area.

“If Guizhou can have one world-class resort, another one should be a national park,” Zhang added.

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